* “The Speer Balcony” On The Old Reich Chancellery In Berlin

* “The Speer Balcony” On The Old Reich Chancellery In Berlin

On the evening of Jan. 30, 1933, Hitler was celebrating having been named Chancellor of the German Reich under the Weimar Republic earlier that day by President Paul von Hindenburg. His 14-year-long drive for the top spot in the German government had finally been rewarded with victory.

For awhile, it had seemed to his followers that the sought after event might never happen, particularly when—the previous fall of 1932---the ambitious Nazi Fuhrer had run against von Hindenburg for the Presidency in a three-man race---the great German Field Marshal of the World War---and lost.

Forced into a two-man, head-to-head, run-off election, the dejected Fuhrer lost yet a second time, with the next scheduled Presidential election not until faraway 1939.

It didn’t help matters, either, when the twice-defeated Hitler sulkily announced to the press, “He is 82; I am 43. I can wait!” His dissident Stormtrooper followers, however, began grumbling that perhaps they should find another, more moderate leader to guide the failing Party to power.

For his part, von Hindenburg---who had served the Reich under a trio of Prussian Kings and German Kaiser (Emperors) before being elected to his first seven-year term in 1925---despised the man he contemptuously called “That Bohemian corporal!” (sic) adding, his voice dripping with sarcasm, “That man Chancellor of the Reich? Never! I’ll appoint him Minister of Posts, and then he can lick the postage stamps with my head on them!” i.e. kiss his ass.

That got a good laugh with the conservative circle of his advisors, and yet---by the end of that very year---it had become nearly impossible to govern the German Republic with any coalition of parties that excluded Hitler’s still powerful Nazi Party. A majority in the Reichstag/Parliament it might not have, but it could not be ignored.

The President’s camarilla feared that---if denied a legitimate share of governmental power—the Nazi might stage a putsch/revolt ---as, indeed, they’d done unsuccessfully a decade before at the Munich Burgerbraukellar beer hall. Even more, however, the reactionary men around the aging Reich President feared a Red revolution from the political Left, as the hapless country had bloodily experienced during 1919-20.

Standing in the wings offstage was the German Army from whose ranks the President-Marshal had himself sprung four wars ago. And so, faced with dilemma, the president’s men convinced him that only a Hitler Chancellorship would do. It came to pass, therefore, that the man considered the lesser of evils was named to form a coalition government by the very candidate who’d defeated him twice less than six months earlier!

That night, the victorious Nazis held a giant torchlight parade for their new Reich Chancellor that seemed to go on for hours past his new official residence at #78 Wilhelmstrasse/William’s Street. From a window on the second floor overlooking the Wilhelmsplatz/William’s Plaza, the Fuhrer reviewed and saluted his cheering, marching, and singing followers---and for the first time, Hitler noticed that the site was a very awkward location from which to attempt to that sort of thing.

The man who eventually became one of Hitler’s principal prewar architects---Dr. Albert Speer--- noted in his 1970-published Inside the Third Reich: Memoirs, that “The previous Chancellor’s office on the second floor of the office building had three windows overlooking Wilhelmsplatz.

“During those early months of 1933, a crowd almost invariably gathered there and chanted their demand to see the Fuhrer. As a result, it became impossible for Hitler to work in the room---and he did not like it anyhow…Hitler had me refurbish a hall overlooking the park as his new private office”

But this move still did not solve the basic problem about how to review the crowds--- and later parades---f troops that would be passing before his Seat of Government in the years to come Here again, the Nazis had copied the Italian Fascists of Duce/Leader Benito Mussolini, who---after all—had already been in power a full 11 years by the time the Fuhrer took office in 1933.

Mussolini had a famous balcony outside his office window in the Palazzo Venizia/Venice Palace in Rome, upon which he would appear to cheering throngs and make ringing speeches. Perhaps his Nazi imitator in Berlin should also have a balcony. Hitler thought so.

Dr. Speer later related that, “As things worked out, the old office was not to be used, for Hitler wanted to be able to show himself to the crowd and therefore had me build a new ‘historic balcony’ in great haste. ‘The window was really too inconvenient,’ Hitler remarked to me with satisfaction. ‘I could not be seen from all sides. After all, I could not very well lean out”---and yet, that is exactly what the newsreels of Jan. 30, 1933’s evening parade show him doing, although not very far, or successfully.

Another problem surfaced with the most recent renovation architect of 1931, who’d built the added on office Annex, Dr. Speer recalled 40 years later. “Prof. Eduard Jobst Seidler of the Berlin Institute of Technology made a fuss about our doping violence to his work, and (Dr. Hans Heinrich) Lammers, Chief of the Reich Chancellery, agreed that our addition would constitute an infringement on an artist’s copyright,” which---as an architect himself!---Dr. Speer himself well knew.

During these early days of the Nazi revolutionary movement’s takeover of the German State, Hitler wasn’t yet the all-powerful Fuhrer he would become after the President’s death, but was merely the appointed Head of Government, subject to the laws f the State like everyone else. He couldn’t just do as he liked at this juncture.

“Hitler scornfully dismissed these objections,” Dr. Speer recalled four decades later. “’Siedler has spoiled the whole of Wilhelmsplatz! Why, that building looks like the headquarters of a soap company, not the center of the Reich! What does he think? That I’ll let him build the balcony, too?’ But he propitiated the professor with another commission,” as a sop to his wounded pride, stated Prof. Speer, who thus got his go-ahead from his client, Hitler.

And so, the work was done, and in 1988, I discovered the pictures accompanying this sidebar in the files of Hitler’s longtime photographer, the late Prof. Heinrich Hoffmann of Munich. These photos---published here for the first time---show the balcony as a work-in-progress.

Finished in 1933, the new balcony was used by Hitler and his minions for the next five years, until Dr. Speer gave his Fuhrer possession of the sumptuous New German Reich Chancellery in Berlin on Jan. 9, 1939. By then, however, Hitler had tired of making balcony appearances anyway, Dr. Speer noted in his recollections.

“The shift in the mood of the population, the drooping morale which began to be felt throughout Germany in 1933, was evident in the necessity to organize cheering crowds, where two years earlier Hitler had been able to count on spontaneity. What is more, he himself had meanwhile moved away from the admiring masses.

“He tended to be angry and impatient more often than in the past when---as still occasionally happened—a crowd on Wilhelmsplatz began clamoring for him to appear.

“Two years before, he had often stepped out on the ‘historic balcony.’ Now he sometimes snapped at his adjutants when they came to him with the request that he show himself: ‘Stop bothering me with that!’”

In 1945, the Old Reich Chancellery balcony built by Dr. Speer 12 years before was barricaded and used as an enclosed defensive position by harried German troops against the advancing Red Army.

Its remains---mute testimony to a failed dream of Hitlerian Germanic empire---were reviewed that summer by US President Harry S. Truman, touring the shattered Nazi capital in Berlin for the Big Three Potsdam Conference.

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